Intellectual Monopoly Laws Are Hurting Retailers

From the Washington Times:

You wouldn’t normally think of bricks-and-mortar stores as major innovators concerned about patent lawsuits, but Eddie Bauer is one of a number of traditional companies warning Washington it’s worried.

The outdoors clothing company said it, like so many other retailers with major online presence, has faced dubious patent claims over its Web operations. The businesses want Congress to give them tools to fight what some analysts call “patent trolls” — companies that buy up patents and then find other companies to sue.

“Over the past several years, Eddie Bauer has received a number of threats of litigation and been the target of lawsuits by patent assertion entities (PAEs) stating we were in violation of vague ecommerce-related patents,” said Molly McWhinnie, a spokeswoman for the company, using the less-pejorative term for the patent-buying companies.

Over the summer, Eddie Bauer joined more than 40 other companies in signing a letter pleading with Congress to act — and lawmakers heard those pleas.

This week, lawmakers could begin to take the first major action. House Republicans say they may hold a vote on legislation that would require those suing to be more specific about their infringement claims and make those who lose frivolous suits have to pay the winners’ fees. The legislation also would push judges to come up with new rules for document discovery.

Trolls focus their business not on producing patents, but on buying existing patents and then challenging companies, often offering to settle for less than the cost of litigating the case would be, in order to entice companies into avoiding a fight.

In one incident, a company fired off letters to restaurants and coffee shops demanding licensing fees for letting customers use Wi-Fi Internet. Whataburger, a fast-food chain and one of the companies that signed on to the letter to Congress this summer, said it shelved plans to add Wi-Fi out of fear of that sort of claim.

I hate to say this, but I don’t understand why we’re supposed to think these “patent trolls” are any worse than the normal corporate pirates who sue other corporations for daring to use “their” ideas.

How do people own ideas?

When Netflix sued Blockbuster no one call them a “patent troll.” It was absurd. Netflix got a patent on mailing DVDs to customers who paid a monthly flat fee. So when Blockbuster started to do the same thing, they sued.

Would society be better off if photography had been patented rather than simply discovered and shared?

My point here is that the only real offense of the “patent trolls” is that they are not important people like Netflix or Apple. So they are “abusing the system” allegedly. No, they are using the system as if it is intended to be equally available to all when, in reality, it is only supposed to be used by our real oligarchy.

Instead of targeting (discriminating against!) “patent trolls,” Congress ought to completely re-think the rationale for granting intellectual monopoly in the first place. If they want to do it, as the Constitution allows them to do, they should only allow the monopoly to last a short while.

It is revealing that, in our statist age, intellectual “property” is about the only property right that politicians recognize.